“At the heart of the Gospel of mercy
the encounter and acceptance by others are intertwined
with the encounter and acceptance of God himself.
Welcoming others means welcoming God in person!”
Pope Francis, FOR THE WORLD 2016
A true story
"To arrive in the promised land"
"My name is Sami, I am 29 years old, I am one of the numerous Syrian citizens who have been obliged to leave their country at the risk of their life… Before my departure, some Syrian friends who arrived in Germany gave us the names of some dealers (traffickers) and their telephone numbers.
On the10th July, I arrived in Turkey with a friend, his brother, his wife and their 3 children. We contacted one of the traffickers: Hazim who has been indicated to us before our departure.
With him, we agreed about the cost : 15000 $ to arrive in Germany, passing through Greece and thus we bought the life jackets. A part of the money had to be deposited in an office and each day we had to say that we were in Greece, otherwise the trafficker could take the money and say that he made us pass.
Three days later, we left Istanbul and headed to Izmir by bus with more than another 50 persons : Syrians, Afghans, Iroquoians … We travelled by night and the bus had to keep the lights off not to be seen by the police.
From Izmir, we had to cross up to Greece during the same night, but Hazim told us that the police was everywhere and so we had to wait till the following day. We spent the night outside, waiting impatiently for dawn. The following day, Hazim told us that we could leave in the evening. In the evening, he told us that we would depart the following day. And this same story repeated itself for more than three weeks.
The situation was unbearable. We repeated the voyage from Istanbul to Izmir (7 hours) about ten times. It was very hot…
One day, Hazim told us that it had become really difficult to travel through Izmir, because the police was everywhere and that it was better to go to the south of Izmir. He added that a new and luxurious yacht was waiting for us there. But they were only promises. We thought about leaving Hazim and contact another dealer. The day after, Hazim told us that the police attacked the traffickers’ offices and closed the office « Samra » where we had deposited our money. We return quickly: it was true. The office was closed. We tried to contact the owner but the telephone was turned off. After a week, he finally replied and opened his office for some minutes. We withdrew our money and we found another office and another dealer : Farid. The latter told us that he would lead us to Antalya and from there a big ship would take us to Greece. We travelled on a highly crowded bus, almost standing up on one foot.
But, once more, they were only lies and we returned to Istanbul. We spent more than 40 days in Turkey when Farid told us : « I know a point where the police doesn’t come, but it is rather difficult to reach there ».
We leave in three buses towards the indicated point ; a fifteen hours’ journey in the mountains. We were not allowed to get down from the bus. The air condition was not working and it was so hot that we were suffocating. We had no water! We finally arrived near Fitia, a region far from the sea. With the three children we walked in the mountain, each one of us carrying his haversack and his life jacket. At one point we have to go down cautiously towards the sea with the help of a rope. In reality, a wooden boat was there on the sea; but since it was too close to the rocks it was damaged. So as soon as it moved away from the rocks it began to sink. The women began to shout and the children were crying…There was a general panic because we were far from everything and there was no hope of being saved. Moreover, the boat could carry only about twenty persons and we were almost fifty. We were hoping that there would be another boat; but we waited in vain.
On hearing the dealer telling us that « we are turning back, » it was for us more terrible than hearing a death sentence. Climbing the mountains again with our luggage, thirsty .. was impossible ! We were dehydrated and the majority were feeling dizzy. I wished to die not to face again the same route. I thought of throwing myself in the water and end up all my sufferings. But I thought of my mother and my family who had made so many sacrifices to allow me to leave.
I plucked up courage and we went up with the group as we clinked to the rocks : the least wrong step could lead us directly into the sea. At the end of the slope, I saw a woman of a certain age lying on the ground. She seemed to be dead. I approached her ; she couldn’t talk ; she made me understand that she was thirsty. I had less than a glass of water in my bottle. After a short hesitation (I said to myself : God has just saved my life, I must help this woman as a sign of gratitude), I will give her some sips to drink and pour some drops of water on her face. After some minutes she could answer my questions. I understood that she couldn’t go down to the sea because she was not feeling well. She was completely dehydrated. Her son had left her there to go and bring some water. When he arrived, he gave me a glass of water and so I could cover five kilometres until I arrived to a hut where the owner gave us some water and filled also our bottles. We could thus continue to reach the main road which was 7 kilometres far. But the first village was still 24 km. away. Before arriving in this village, we were caught by the police and forced us to return to Istanbul. At this stage, I decided to return to Syria. But my companions urged me to continue the route with them since I knew English… Since I had lost my work and my money, I had to go ahead!
After this adventure where we almost died of thirst, we could no longer trust those who promised us beautiful boats, and we decided to take a « balm », these rubber boats which are inflated and whose fragility is known by all the immigrants. My friend’s brother, who came from Sweden to cross with us, chose a new dealer : Maher. We therefore travelled by night up to Izmir and Maher told us not to be afraid because he had paid the police and settled everything. We were in front of the Island of Metini. We asked to travel by day because during the night there are often attacks from sea pirates who could deflate the boats with their knives, they steal the people on board and let them die in the sea.
It was the immigrants who had to inflate the six compartments of the boat. I began to work with my two companions. Maher asked us to be quick as the police was approaching us, he said. While at work, one of my companions slipped down. He was tired as he lacked water and sleep; the dealer, instead of helping him to get up, gave him a blow on his head with his gun. My companion fell into the water, unconscious. When I was about to help him, Maher gave me a blow on my head. For two days I continued to feel dizzy. When my companion regained his senses and was still full of blood, he took hold of Maher. I tried to separate them but in vain; soon, other armed traffickers arrived, (I don’t know from where they cropped up) to defend Maher, who placed his submachine gun on my companion’s head. His wife started crying while his children began to shout. It was a terrible moment. I believed he was going to kill us all. Some people informed the police but the trafficker put on his life jacket and disappeared in the water. We went back to Izmir to get some rest because we were all exhausted and desperate.
The following day we found another agent : Shafiq. With him, things went more rapidly; he told us that we would leave the same evening on a rubber boat, but of a good quality and had a good engine. We therefore accepted all the conditions, including the crossing during the night. When we arrived at the fixed point, the boat was not the one he had promised us. But we were determined to leave even if we had to die. Before arriving in Greek waters, the engine stopped. We were extremely scared. Luckily, one of the voyagers informed his brother who was in Istanbul who then informed the Turkish police who usually arrives two or three hours later. But this time, the police arrived more rapidly: the waves pushed the boat up to the Greek waters, and we found ourselves in front of the island of Samos ; half an hour later, the Greek police came to rescue us. Once again, we were « saved » by God’s invisible hand.
The Greek police gave us the necessary documents to be able to go around Greece and two days later a very big ship took us to Athens. From there we left up to the boundary of Macedonia where another adventure was waiting for us.
We crossed Serbia up to Belgrade. From there we left and arrived near the boundary with Hungary where the police prevented us to enter, then surrounded us and directed us towards an immense camp. We were in tens of thousands. The number frightened me. The police wanted to take our fingerprints which could deprive us from the right to find refuge in Germany. After long hours of discussion and rebellion, the crowd of immigrants managed to leave the camp. Availing myself of this moment of disorder, I ran in the opposite direction. After running for some minutes, without knowing where I was going, I found myself in a maize field where I hid myself till the following day. I was hungry and I fell asleep because I hadn’t slept for the last four days. In the morning, I found a box of dates which had fallen doubtlessly form a migrant’s haversack. I devoured it in a few moments. I threw away half of my clothes to lighten my bag. I was alone and I didn’t know which was the right direction. I was thirsty and I desired to go to a hotel to change my clothes and to sleep. I even wanted to charge my mobile phone to give news to my family. I glimpsed an old couple from a distance. I ran towards them. On seeing me running, the man ran away while the woman remained there, scared. I made them a sign that I wanted to drink, but she didn’t understand. She began to shout. All of a sudden, I decided to take out the cross which I carried under my shirt, to show it to her. She immediately called her husband and told him something. He came back with some water and he made me talk to his daughter who understood English. Thanks to them I went to a hotel. I was neither hungry nor thirsty, but I needed only to sleep. Then, I came in contact with other migrants and we travelled to Vienna, hence to Germany where my cousin was waiting for me to host me. I finally arrived in the promised land! At last I was in a house and safe, after almost two long months of anguish which I will remember throughout my life".